The decision to invest in creative, well planned design can make or break a retail food service operation. Design encompasses many important aspects of planning, from customer flow and efficient training spaces all the way to how the walls or even the pastries are decorated. Today we will look at visual design, and how an early investment in original and imaginative elements can pay off in the long run.
In Chicago, Model Member Inspiration Corporation opened Inspiration Kitchens and hired Wheeler Kearns Architects to produce a remarkable signature look for the large interior space. Where there would have been a large blank wall with the usual collection of artworks, they designed an acoustic wall which reflects both the old timber beams of the original 1906 manufacturing building and the stately trees of Garfield Park just outside the windows. As an added bonus, Wheeler Kearns won a design award for the building, generating additional buzz and media attention for the new restaurant.
Inspiration Corporation also created an outdoor feature that serves as both a key design element and a functional part of their training program. When Margaret Haywood, Director of Workforce Development, saw the empty lot next to the building they had just purchased, she immediately thought that it would be a great space to grow their own produce! So they bought the extra land and planted a raised-bed garden. The flowers and vegetables they grow stand out in the industrial neighborhood and help draw attention to the restaurant. Even more importantly, Haywood says, having the garden provides a terrific opportunity to teach students about the farm to table ecosystem and give them an important perspective on the critical issue of food waste in the kitchen.
Logan Fahey is the Co-Founder of Bloom Bakery, a social venture from Rising Member Towards Employment in Cleveland, Ohio. He emphasizes the importance of informing design decisions with a thoroughly researched understanding of the local market. “Social enterprise needs to stay up to date with what is going on, in step with how retail environments are changing,” Fahey explains. “As far as how the locations look, we really went with our own instincts, and what we thought the Cleveland market would want to see.”
Everyone probably knows that if you are opening a coffee house or café, you need to have a lot of electrical outlets. But what happens after all the phones and laptops are charged? People take pictures. Social media is visual medium, and in the digital age, your customers are your reviewers and most important promoters. Creative design will give them something to post on their feeds that will catch their followers’ attention.
Another example of creative interior planning is New Moon Café in Burlington, Vermont, operated by Rising Member 150 Cherry Street. Their mission statement describes the café as “a place with a life giving atmosphere.” The interior reflects that perfectly by giving new life to wood salvaged from a 150-year old barn. A stunning Chandelier, surrounded by leather sofas and a large brick fireplace, makes for a striking visual centerpiece to the room.
Britain and Australia both have a vibrant and thriving social enterprise business community, especially for cafes and coffee houses. Alex Oppes, associate director at Social Ventures Australia, offers some good advice for those opening a social enterprise café. In an interview with Australian newspaper The Age, Oppes says, “the reality is people choose their cafes due to location and quality and once they’ve become customers, they become really rusted-on customers due to the social mission. It’s really important to any of these cafes to get their business fundamentals right, because that’s what gets customers in the door.”
Your social mission might keep customers coming back in for more, but design is what will get them in the door that first time. Paper & Cup, located in London, is an example of a successful SE café which provides a training environment for people in recovery. In a recent profile in The Guardian, founder Brent Clark says, “When we set up Paper & Cup in Shoreditch, we consciously designed it to look like any other cafe here. People’s expectation of coffee is very high. My thinking was we’d get customers to come for the coffee, and when they later learned about the work we do with recovering addicts it would be an added bonus.”
The success of the social venture will add to more than just the bottom line. A popular neighborhood social enterprise can have a big impact on a community, as well as on the perceptions of the populations the organization serves, who in turn are serving and interacting with their communities. Reducing stigma through engagement with the community will work best in a space that feels comfortable for both the customers and the mission trainees and staff. CK Director Renee Martin sagely describes this concept as “dignity through style.”
We will explore this idea in more depth in subsequent parts of this series as well as revisit the issue of design with a look behind the scenes of the planning and opening of FareStart’s new restaurants in Seattle.